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Engineers in the Role of an Artist

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Is engineering an art? Well, most people think of the engineer and the artist as two widely different people who pursue quite disparate ends. They don't even look at the world in the same way - do they? In fact, engineers and artists take their inspiration from each other and their visions and ways of working are simply the two different sides of the very same coin.

In our modern world engineering has transformed the way our society looks and functions, and it has transformed the world that artists have to draw upon for their creative visions. But the artists, in turn, have deeply inspired the engineers--whether the latter consciously realize it or not. Maybe the engineer is more concerned with function and maybe the artist is more concerned with form; but both of those things come together at some point.

Consider the notebooks, drawings, and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. He had plenty of meeting points between the arts and engineering in his own concepts. Consider the magnificent sculptures of Michelangelo. For both men there had to be possessed great knowledge of function combined with a love and understanding of form. Has this somehow changed through time? No, not really.



Today we can walk through beautiful buildings and see the meeting between function and form. Architects are not engineers--but they must call upon engineers to make sure that their more artistically-inspired concepts will actually stand up and not fall down at the slightest blowing of a breeze. They have to have an understanding of engineering in order to come up with the artistic ways of using space for the edification of human beings. Architecture has been called ''frozen music'' for a very good reason.

Today we can go to museums and marvel at the beauty of automobiles, ships, steamboats, airplanes, spacecraft, and even something like a ''naked'' V-12 engine. And now we have the emerging field of robotics, with the robots becoming more and more beautiful to those with eyes to look at them aesthetically even as their functioning becomes even more sophisticated and human-like. Consider also modern engineered pieces of technology like the flat-screen TV that is designed to be hung like a picture on the wall, or Apple Corporation's experimentation with the curving corners and different colors of the iMac computer and the sleek design of the iPhone. We can see form and function having equal concern in people's minds when we look at the cars of the 1950s and 1960s and then look at those of today. The aesthetic back then was all about ''bigness'', raw power, and flamboyance. Today it is about being sleek, fuel-efficient, and aerodynamic to reflect a growing concern about fuel functionality. Engineers who designed cars were and are influenced by their day's aesthetics just as surely as the artist is.

With the Industrial Revolution eventually came a wider separation between beauty and practicality, as was embodied in large part by positivism. But there was always a tradition in England (the nation, which at the time of the Industrial Revolution, was giving world the best machinists and engineers) of functional art. That has never died--it simply got disguised for a while. In the 21st century, the engineer is re-emerging as an artist once again—to the benefit of all concerned. Let the dualistic wedge driven between function and form in people's minds be obliterated!
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 human beings  methods  engines  plans  knowledge  originals  Leonardo da Vinci  iPhones  architects  experiments


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